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Process may make LA presidential primary count for zip

Soon, Louisiana Republicans can hit the precinct locations across the state to vote for presidential nomination preferences in the party’s primary – and may have it count for nothing.

That’s not because the scheduling of it pushed the shelf life of meaningful input into the process past its due date. A clear frontrunner certain to take the nomination has yet to be established, partly because of wariness over candidates in an election cycle that ought to produce a layup win against the incumbent, partly because the calendar itself produced a more evenly-distributed lineup of contests, and partly because few winner-take-all contests remain on the ballot compared to quadrennial exercises of the recent past. The environment exists to give the state more influence than it has in 16 years, when it allocated some delegates through one of the first caucuses held.

But dramatically reducing influence of the popular vote results could result as an artifact of subsequent congressional district meetings on Apr. 28, and decisions at the Jun. 2 state convention. The state can supply 46 total delegates – 20 allocated from the primary, 18 from the district caucuses, five selected by the party’s Executive Committee, and three (state chairman and two Republican National Committee members) by virtue of their offices.

According to the rules, the only sure delegates the party can count on are to any candidate who wins at least 25 percent of the statewide primary vote. Anybody who does gets them proportionally; the remainder selected by convention delegates would be uncommitted. At the convention, its participants would decide whether to select any uncommitted delegates on the basis of preferences, which would not bind them to candidates (by the rules, officially pledged national delegates must vote for that candidate on the first ballot) but would allow supporters of them to get elected as national delegates.

The same is true at the district caucuses; there, delegates to the state convention will be selected, 25 from each, from which during the convention three national delegates from each will be selected. The other eight will remain officially uncommitted.

This makes the district caucuses crucial, for whoever gets picked as state delegates there provide the raw material for national delegates later. Candidates will try to get their supporters picked as state delegates, so at the state convention they collectively can pick from themselves national delegates, as well as influence the picking of any uncommitted delegates tied to the primary results. Throw into consideration the state elections rules that require early filing and withdrawal of candidates, which have left four withdrawn candidates on the ballot, and dynamics that make the state less hospitable for the chances of frontrunner former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (a significant share of the vote may go to withdrawn candidates to protest to the lack of what is seen as a candidate both ideologically and tempermentally suitable, besides support going to more conservative continuing candidates), and its possible no candidate would get a quarter or more of the vote and thereby pledge no delegates. (The latest polling shows only former Sen. Rick Santorum seems certain to grab at least a quarter of the vote.)

Such an environment could produce an outcome where the highest receiver of votes may get no delegates, and an also-ran might get plenty. For example, let’s say Santorum pulls only 24 percent, Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich get about 20 percent each, Rep. Ron Paul gets 16 percent, and a minor candidate plus the withdrawn ones get the remainder of the vote. But at the district caucuses five weeks later, let’s say the superior organizing of Paul manages to make its people comprise over half of those who show up. As a result, that campaign manages to get over half of all delegates elected to come from its camp, where at the convention they select among themselves the majority of national delegates, while Santorum gets few, perhaps even none. Even though all delegates attending in Tampa officially will be unpledged, most would be committed to a primary also-ran while the leading vote-getter has far fewer, if any.

Of course, few registered (prior to last Dec. 15) Republicans casting votes by Mar. 24 will know all of the rules that could, in essence, invalidate their expressed preference that could make their efforts worthless. While it might encourage some to turn out, in the hopes of ensuring at least some pledged proportional representation, it could discourage others who see potential cancelling of their votes as too easily wrought. Perhaps this has motivated all major candidates, even Paul who had indicated he would not actively campaign in the state, to makes campaign appearances to remind his supporters to hit the polls and get them over that 25 percent threshold.

The scenario outlined above is not the likely outcome, but neither is it improbable. Some argue it was a reason why the district caucuses were scheduled late on the process, in the hopes that a frontrunner acceptable to a large proportion of the party faithful would emerge who could control the selections by the large number of supporters he could invigorate by appearing to be an inevitable nominee. That inevitability could start to be established as early as the primary if the outcome leans heavily in one direction. Otherwise, the caucuses will eclipse the primary in influence in Louisiana this election cycle, rendering the later as meaningless as that on the Democrats' side.

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